How Erva Brew Co. is reinventing Yerba Mate in California

Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist, photos courtesy of Erva Brew Co.

Erva Brew Co. co-founder Tiffany Scalia was introduced to yerba mate in college, while juggling three jobs to pay her tuition at the University of Southern California. At the time, she was a coffee drinker, relying on the free cups that were often available in common areas around campus. Then, after a particularly trying day at work, Scalia’s colleague steered her towards another drink: yerba mate.

“The companion resuscitated me from within. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced,” Scalia says. “Coffee has always hit me in the stomach, then left me shaking and anxious. With mate, it’s so much cleaner. It even gives, at least for me, a sense of optimism.

From her very first sip, Scalia was hooked and immediately swapped her coffee habit for gallon jugs of cold brew yerba mate. Originating in the humid regions of South America, when brewed as a tea, the dried leaves and stems of yerba mate lend themselves to an earthy, smoky flavor profile and are packed with vitamins, minerals, acids amino acids and antioxidants, plus a healthy dose of caffeine. According to some studies, yerba mate has been shown to improve the mood of those who consume it regularly.

While yerba mate tea has a centuries-old pre-colonial history across South America, several California companies have embraced and reinvented the traditional tea. Leading the trend is Guayaki, a bottled yerba mate brand headquartered in Sevastopol. It was started in 1996 by a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student seeking to share the tradition he grew up with in Argentina. In 2021, the San Diego-based founders of Boochcraft and Juneshine launched Kové Hard Yerba Mate, an enriched seltzer that uses yerba mate tea as a base, with a tasting room in the Miramar neighborhood.

Scalia did not initially launch a mate brand. After graduating from college, she ran a cooperative, farm-to-festival catering business called 99 Potatoes. As she searched for something that would rejuvenate festival-goers without turning them into jittery, sleep-deprived zombies, she found the answer again in mate, creating her company’s now cult flavor Ginger Limeade and serving it over ice. .

In 2014, Scalia, Juan Rivera, and Ryan Beaucher co-founded Erva Brew Co. They expanded their operations to L.A. farmers markets while adding flavors like Tulsi Passion and Hibiscus Lemon to reflect the city’s diverse cultures. “We get a lot of people who have never heard of yerba mate, and after trying ours they instantly stop drinking coffee. It’s really cool to witness,” Rivera says. “We also get customers from Argentina and Brazil, as well as Syria and Lebanon, which few people know that these countries also have mate drinking traditions. It’s really cool to share our version with people who don’t have never seen yerba mate offered here.

yerba mate
Photo courtesy of Erva Brew Co.

Of course, there are naysayers to operations like Erva Brew Co., often from a generation of lifelong mate drinkers who believe the tradition should be carried on in some way. Traditional yerba mate ceremonies involve brewing tea leaves in a small gourd and pouring hot water before circulating it around a group, with each participant sipping the mixture through the same metal straw. The concoction is bitter and strong at first, but water is added intermittently as the squash moves through the group, gradually dulling its pungent flavors.

But this traditional method of consuming yerba mate isn’t always ideal in hot, sunny Southern California, and especially not since March 2020, when Rivera and Scalia launched their physical store in Pasadena. Luckily, Erva Brew Co. already had a strong following thanks to the fame of its local farmers market and was able to stay afloat with take-out services. In July 2020, they opened the shop to customers, offering blends like Lemon Lavender and Moroccan Mint on tap, as well as a selection of hot mate, yerba mate lattes, loose leaf blends, and herbal bites. South American inspiration like vegetarian empanadas and Peruvian alfajore cookies sandwiched with dulce de leche, made weekly by Rivera’s mother.

True to the philosophy that helped Scalia launch its catering business, Erva Brew Co. is intentional about how it sources ingredients. For now, the company uses organic and fair trade mate from family farms in Misiones, Argentina, but the founders hope to switch to direct trade as soon as possible. The herbs in their beers are organic and all fruit is sourced from local farmers markets. With extractive practices so prevalent in the coffee industry, Scalia and Rivera are working to make a positive economic impact.

Eventually, Rivera and Scalia hope to infuse Erva Brew Co. with some of the community spirit that’s also integral to yerba mate traditions, like adding canapes for guests to relax in the cafe. The original plan was to launch with tasting flights that could be passed between customers, as well as shareable bowls of canchita – Peruvian popcorn – which are currently offered in single packets.

Still recovering from a busy festival season, including a stop at Coachella, Scalia and Rivera are already hard at work on Erva Brew Co’s next seasonal launch. chicha morada, a fermented purple corn drink popular in Peru, Bolivia and Chile. He and Scalia also hope to offer Sparkling Mate and Sparkling Cola Mate soon.

For now, the charming Pasadena boutique has a vibrant mural behind the bar and a smattering of seating for customers, representing a great study spot for nearby CalTech students and a friendly neighborhood cafe option for kids. wandering inhabitants.

“We want to energize people in a new way, a way that helps them realize their greatest potential,” Scalia says.

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Danielle Dorsey is the West Coast Editor for Thrillist.

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